Levi Tillemann, who is running in Colorado's 6th Congressional District's Democratic primary, is no longer openly criticizing the Democratic Party—but if you ask him if the primary process thus far has been fair, he cannot bring himself to say "yes."
"One thing I've said in the past: I don't really believe in the Republican concept of 'trickle down' economics," Tillemann told the Washington Free Beacon in a recent phone interview. "But it doesn't work in the political system either. We don't want to be in a country where political parties are practicing 'trickle down' politics, where they give all the money and the resources to people who they perceive to be at the top and try to shut people out of the conversation."
Tillemann upset the normal order last January when he blasted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and accused House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of telling him he should drop out of the race earlier this year so the party could unify behind former Army Ranger Jason Crow.
Intra-party fighting such as this worried Democrats in the early campaign months of 2017, when they hoped to defeat incumbent Republican Mike Coffman and flip the most competitive district in a purple state.
However, Tillemann got a much-needed boost last week when State Sen. Rhonda Fields gave him her endorsement. The Fields endorsement could be meaningful because the heart of her senate district—Aurora, the third-largest city in Colorado—is also at the heart of the 6th congressional district.
Tillemann is still the underdog: Crow leads in fundraising dollars as well as endorsements from higher-profile Democrats in the state like current U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, and former senator and interior secretary Ken Salazar.
Snow is also featured prominently on the first page of the DCCC's "Red to Blue" webpage.
"This should be about ideas, it should be about values, vision, and who's the most dynamic political candidate to represent a particular constituency," Tillemann added. "And I don't think that that has happened in this particular election. And a lot of that has to do with decisions that were made by people who don't live in this district."
Similar scenes are playing out in other districts around the country, including those in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. Additionally, progressive groups such as Our Revolution have criticized the broader strategies of the DCCC. "They have yet to realize that the path to the majority requires supporting diverse candidates who hold progressive values," said Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution.
"It is a struggle for [Democratic] unity," said David Flaherty, who runs Magellan Strategies, a Republican polling group in Colorado.
"It's a classic example where here in the past, Mike Coffman's challengers have not had to go through a very competitive primary," Flaherty said, noting that the pedigree of his previous challengers—a former state speaker of the house and a former president of the state senate—helped to clear the field quickly and consolidate support behind a single candidate.
However, things have changed now that Democrats have used up much of their bench in that region of the state.
As for the Hoyer conversation, Tillemann told the Free Beacon he wouldn't re-litigate the issue.
According to notes taken by Tilleman and his campaign manager regarding a December meeting with Hoyer, the Minority Whip said, "If you stay in the race—and, frankly I would hope you would not—but if you stay in the race, it is not useful to the objective to tear down Crow."
Some have disputed the content of the conversation and Hoyer's representatives have said repeatedly in the past that Hoyer does not comment on private meetings.
"All the powers-that-be in the [Democratic] party clearly want to unite behind Crow," political analyst Eric Sondermann told Westword magazine. "Tillemann, I think, is trying to ride an insurgent wave, an anti-Democratic-establishment wave. That will carry him some distance. Color me dubious that'll be enough to carry him over the top."
Tilleman has also recently been critical of the Sierra Club's endorsement to Snow.
"At first I thought this was a headline from The Onion," Tillemann told Colorado Politics in early March. "The Sierra Club is endorsing a white collar, criminal defense lawyer who has literally defended frackers? I've spent my entire life building out the clean energy agenda. Some endorsements are won. Others are bought. Clearly, this falls into the second category."
Neither Hoyer's office nor the DCCC responded to a request for comment.
Colorado's primary vote is June 26.